Do your players - or you if you're playing - assume every statue is a gorgon's victim?
Warning: Tiny metal breasts after the cut.
Pretty much, if I put a statue into a dungeon, I assume one of two things will happen:
- the players will carefully check to see if it's a Flesh to Stone spell or gorgon/medusa victim.
- the players will assume it's a golem if it's not the above.
One issue with this is that most of the time, it's neither. It's not a petrified victim, nor a golem. It's often just a statue.
I've tried to figure out ways to signal this. Healthy suspicion is fine, but once every statue in every dungeon has been smashed to pieces or had Stone to Flesh cast on it "just to be sure," it starts to get a bit old.
As a GM, what can I do? Here are are some things I thought of:
Not every sculptor a Michelangelo? Okay, Michelangelo's work is incredible. They look like they can just walk off the pedestal. Same for the ancient Greeks, and those terracotta warriors are pretty amazing. But sculptures are not always so. They can be a little rigid, be in poses meant for stability. Those terracotta soldiers in Qin's tomb are amazing but don't look quite like they're folks paralyzed mid-step. Ancient statues of men and horses are often fantastic but posed in such a way that it's clear they're not meant to move.
In other words, if you see a perfectly-detailed stone image of a prone fighter screaming, maybe there is a medusa nearby. If you see a perfectly-detailed stone image of a standing fighter leaning on his sword to create three points of ground contact and he's gazing calmly toward the heavens, he probably is a statue.
Of course, he could be a golem, but that does imply a very well made one - if you're cranking out golem guards and expect them to see combat, you probably go "functional" more than "masterpiece of art." The paint job on a competition display car is a lot nicer than the paint you see when you're up-close on a tank.
Which brings up another point - sculptors aren't routinely going to choose the generic subjects (and subject details) that fit, say, petrified adventurers. Overly-detailed statues dressed and equipped like delvers are more likely to be former delvers and a sign that a medusa is hanging about than an overly-detailed statue of a wise man holding a blank book and giving a benediction with his other hand.
Pose them as what they are. Golems might be posed to look like any other statue, to fool you into dropping your guard. But they won't always be so. Petrification victims will rarely be in perfect poses for standing or to look like a display piece. Willingly-petrified folks bound up as guards might be, of course, but those should be less common than generic statues.
Wear and Tear. Golems, especially, should have some wear-and-tear, if they've been active. Chips, flakes, blood flecks from victims, cracks, etc. are nice signals that maybe this statue of a big dude with a hammer isn't just a statue.
Those are the three signals I can think of - make it clear when statues aren't detailed beyond looking pretty good at the expected viewing distance, make sure to describe the pose as a standard, static pose, and ensure to put some signalling battle damage on golems. That could help. Of course, if your goal as a GM is paranoid PCs who smash everything they find to ensure it doesn't come to life behind them and attack them, ignore all of the above. Me, I just feel bad when I put in a puzzle trap with a statue trigger - or a talking magical statue of knowledge - or a statue of great value - and the PCs smash it to pieces after ensuring it's not just a medusa victim. I'd like to make it clear and perhaps these methods will help.